by Sigmund FreudFebruary 28th, 2023
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As the general result of the preceding separate discussions we must put down the following principle: Certain inadequacies of our psychic capacities—whose common character will soon be more definitely determined—and certain performances which are apparently unintentional prove to be well motivated when subjected to the psychoanalytic investigation, and are determined through the consciousness of unknown motives.
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Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. DETERMINISM—CHANCE—AND SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS


Points of View.

As the general result of the preceding separate discussions we must put down the following principle: Certain inadequacies of our psychic capacities—whose common character will soon be more definitely determined—and certain performances which are apparently unintentional prove to be well motivated when subjected to the psychoanalytic investigation, and are determined through the consciousness of unknown motives.

In order to belong to this class of phenomena thus explained a faulty psychic action must satisfy the following conditions:—

(a) It must not exceed a certain measure, which is firmly established through our estimation, and is designated by the expression “within normal limits.”

(b) It must evince the character of the momentary and temporary disturbance. The same action must have been previously performed more correctly or we must always rely on ourselves[Pg 278] to perform it more correctly; if we are corrected by others we must immediately recognize the truth of the correction and the incorrectness of our psychic action.

(c) If we at all perceive a faulty action, we must not perceive in ourselves any motivation of the same, but must attempt to explain it through “inattention” or attribute it to an “accident.”

Thus there remain in this group the cases of forgetting and the errors, despite better knowledge, the lapses in speaking, reading, writing, the erroneously carried-out actions, and the so-called chance actions. The explanations of these so definite psychic processes are connected with a series of observations which may in part arouse further interest.

I. By abandoning a part of our psychic capacity as unexplainable through purposive ideas we ignore the realms of determinism in our mental life. Here, as in still other spheres, determinism reaches farther than we suppose. In the year 1900 I read an essay published in the Zeit written by the literary historian R. M. Meyer, in which he maintains, and illustrates by examples, that it is impossible to compose nonsense intentionally and arbitrarily. For some time I have been aware that it is impossible to think of a number, or even of a name, of one’s own free will. If one investigates this seeming[Pg 279] voluntary formation, let us say, of a number of many digits uttered in unrestrained mirth, it always proves to be so strictly determined that the determination seems impossible. I will now briefly discuss an example of an “arbitrarily chosen” first name, and then exhaustively analyse an analogous example of a “thoughtlessly uttered” number.

While preparing the history of one of my patients for publication I considered what first name I should give her in the article. There seemed to be a wide choice; of course, certain names were at once excluded by me, in the first place the real name, then the names of members of my family to which I would have objected, also some female names having an especially peculiar pronunciation. But, excluding these, there should have been no need of being puzzled about such a name. It would be thought, and I myself supposed, that a whole multitude of feminine names would be placed at my disposal. Instead of this only one sprang up, no other besides it; it was the name Dora.

I inquired as to its determination: “Who else is called Dora?” I wished to reject the next idea as incredulous; it occurred to me that the nurse of my sister’s children was named Dora. But I possess so much self-control, or practice in analysis, if you like, that I held firmly to the idea and proceeded. Then a slight incident[Pg 280] of the previous evening soon flashed through my mind which brought the looked-for determination. On my sister’s dining-room table I noticed a letter bearing the address, “Miss Rosa W.” Astonished, I asked whose name this was, and was informed that the right name of the supposed Dora was really Rosa, and that on accepting the position she had to lay aside her name, because Rosa would also refer to my sister. I said pityingly, “Poor people! They cannot even retain their own names!” I now recall that on hearing this I became quiet for a moment and began to think of all sorts of serious matters which merged into the obscure, but which I could now easily bring into my consciousness. Thus when I sought a name for a person who could not retain her own name no other except “Dora” occurred to me. The exclusiveness here is based, moreover, on firmer internal associations, for in the history of my patient it was a stranger in the house, the governess, who exerted a decisive influence on the course of the treatment.

This slight incident found its unexpected continuation many years later. While discussing in a lecture the long-since published history of the girl called Dora it occurred to me that one of my two women pupils had the very name Dora which I was obliged to utter so often in the different associations of the case. I turned to the young student, whom I knew personally,[Pg 281] with the apology that I had really not thought that she bore the same name, and that I was ready to substitute it in my lecture by another name.

I was now confronted with the task of rapidly choosing another name, and reflected that I must not now choose the first name of the other woman student, and so set a poor example to the class, who were already quite conversant with psychoanalysis. I was therefore well pleased when the name “Erna” occurred to me as the substitute for Dora, and Erna I used in the discourse. After the lecture I asked myself whence the name “Erna” could possibly have originated, and had to laugh as I observed that the feared possibility in the choice of the substitutive name had come to pass, in part at least. The other lady’s family name was Lucerna, of which Erna was a part.

In a letter to a friend I informed him that I had finished reading the proof-sheets of The Interpretation of Dreams, and that I did not intend to make any further changes in it, “even if it contained 2,467 mistakes.” I immediately attempted to explain to myself the number, and added this little analysis as a postscript to the letter. It will be best to quote it now as I wrote it when I caught myself in this transaction:—

“I will add hastily another contribution to the Psychopathology of Everyday Life. You will find in the letter the number 2,467 as a jocose[Pg 282] and arbitrary estimation of the number of errors that may be found in the dream-book. I meant to write: no matter how large the number might be, and this one presented itself. But there is nothing arbitrary or undetermined in the psychic life. You will therefore rightly suppose that the unconscious hastened to determine the number which was liberated by consciousness. Just previous to this I had read in the paper that General E. M. had been retired as Inspector-General of Ordnance. You must know that I am interested in this man. While I was serving as military medical student he, then a colonel, once came into the hospital and said to the physician: ‘You must make me well in eight days, as I have some work to do for which the Emperor is waiting.’

“At that time I decided to follow this man’s career, and just think, to-day (1899) he is at the end of it—Inspector-General of Ordnance and already retired. I wished to figure out in what time he had covered this road, and assumed that I had seen him in the hospital in 1882. That would make 17 years. I related this to my wife, and she remarked, ‘Then you, too, should be retired.’ And I protested, ‘The Lord forbid!’ After this conversation I seated myself at the table to write to you. The previous train of thought continued, and for good reason. The figuring was incorrect; I had a definite recollection of the circumstances in my mind.[Pg 283] I had celebrated my coming of age, my 24th birthday, in the military prison (for being absent without permission). Therefore I must have seen him in 1880, which makes it 19 years ago. You then have the number 24 in 2,467! Now take the number that represents my age, 43, and add 24 years to it and you get 67! That is, to the question whether I wished to retire I had expressed the wish to work 24 years more. Obviously I am annoyed that in the interval during which I followed Colonel M. I have not accomplished much myself, and still there is a sort of triumph in the fact that he is already finished, while I still have all before me. Thus we may justly say that not even the unintentionally thrown-out number 2,467 lacks its determination from the unconscious.”

Since this first example of the interpretation of an apparently arbitrary choice of a number I have repeated a similar test with the same result; but most cases are of such intimate content that they do not lend themselves to report.

It is for this reason that I shall not hesitate to add here a very interesting analysis of a “chance number” which Dr. Alfred Adler (Vienna) received from a “perfectly healthy” man.[69] A.[Pg 284] wrote to me: “Last night I devoted myself to the Psychopathology of Everyday Life, and I would have read it all through had I not been hindered by a remarkable coincidence. When I read that every number that we apparently conjure up quite arbitrarily in our consciousness has a definite meaning, I decided to test it. The number 1,734 occurred to my mind. The following associations then came up: 1,734 ÷ 17 = 102; 102 ÷ 17 = 6. I then separated the number into 17 and 34. I am 34 years old. I believe that I once told you that I consider 34 the last year of youth, and for this reason I felt miserable on my last birthday. The end of my 17th year was the beginning of a very nice and interesting period of my development. I divide my life into periods of 17 years. What do the divisions signify? The number 102 recalls the fact that volume 102 of the Reclam Universal Library is Kotzebue’s play Menschenhass und Reue (Human Hatred and Repentance).

“My present psychic state is ‘human hatred and repentance.’ No. 6 of the U. L. (I know a great many numbers by heart) is Mullner’s ‘Schuld’ (Fault). I am constantly annoyed at the thought that it is through my own fault that I have not become what I could have been with my abilities.

“I then asked myself, ‘What is No. 17 of[Pg 285] the U. L.?’ But I could not recall it. But as I positively knew it before, I assumed that I wished to forget this number. All reflection was in vain. I wished to continue with my reading, but I read only mechanically without understanding a word, for I was annoyed by the number 17. I extinguished the light and continued my search. It finally came to me that number 17 must be a play by Shakespeare. But which one? I thought of Hero and Leander. Apparently a stupid attempt of my will to distract me. I finally arose and consulted the catalogue of the U. L. Number 17 was Macbeth! To my surprise I had to discover that I knew nothing of the play, despite the fact that it did not interest me any less than any other Shakespearean drama. I only thought of: murder, Lady Macbeth, witches, ‘nice is ugly,’ and that I found Schiller’s version of Macbeth very nice. Undoubtedly I also wished to forget the play. Then it occurred to me that 17 and 34 may be divided by 17 and result in 1 and 2. Numbers 1 and 2 of the U. L. is Goethe’s Faust. Formerly I found much of Faust in me.”

We must regret that the discretion of the physician did not allow us to see the significance of ideas. Adler remarked that the man did not succeed in the synthesis of his analysis. His association would hardly be worth reporting unless[Pg 286] their continuation would bring out something that would give us the key to the understanding of the number 1,734 and the whole series of ideas.

To quote further: “To be sure this morning I had an experience which speaks much for the correctness of the Freudian conception. My wife, whom I awakened through my getting up at night, asked me what I wanted with the catalogue of the U. L. I told her the story. She found it all pettifogging but—very interesting. Macbeth, which caused me so much trouble, she simply passed over. She said that nothing came to her mind when she thought of a number. I answered, ‘Let us try it.’ She named the number 117. To this I immediately replied: ‘17 refers to what I just told you; furthermore, I told you yesterday that if a wife is in the 82nd year and the husband is in the 35th year it must be a gross misunderstanding.’ For the last few days I have been teasing my wife by maintaining that she was a little old mother of 82 years. 82 + 35 = 117.”

The man who did not know how to determine his own number at once found the solution when his wife named a number which was apparently arbitrarily chosen. As a matter of fact, the woman understood very well from which complex the number of her husband originated, and chose her own number from the same complex, which[Pg 287] was surely common to both, as it dealt in his case with their relative ages. Now, we find it easy to interpret the number that occurred to the man. As Dr. Adler indicates, it expressed a repressed wish of the husband which, fully developed, would read: “For a man of 34 years as I am, only a woman of 17 would be suitable.”

Lest one should think too lightly of such “playing,” I will add that I was recently informed by Dr. Adler that a year after the publication of this analysis the man was divorced from his wife.[70]

Adler gives a similar explanation for the origin of obsessive numbers. Also the choice of so-called “favourite numbers” is not without relation to the life of the person concerned, and does not lack a certain psychologic interest. A gentleman who evinced a particular partiality for the numbers 17 and 19 could specify, after brief reflection, that at the age of 17 he attained the greatly longed-for academic freedom by having been admitted to the university, that at 19 he made his first long journey, and shortly thereafter made his first scientific discovery. But the fixation of this preference followed later, after[Pg 288] two questionable affairs, when the same numbers were invested with importance in his “love-life.”

Indeed, even those numbers which we use in a particular connection extremely often and with apparent arbitrariness can be traced by analysis to an unexpected meaning. Thus, one day it struck one of my patients that he was particularly fond of saying, “I have already told you this from 17 to 36 times.” And he asked himself whether there was any motive for it. It soon occurred to him that he was born on the 27th day of the month, and that his younger brother was born on the 26th day of another month, and he had grounds for complaint that Fate had robbed him of so many of the benefits of life only to bestow them on his younger brother. Thus he represented this partiality of Fate by deducting 10 from the date of his birth and adding it to the date of his brother’s birthday. I am the elder and yet am so “cut short.”

I shall tarry a little longer at the analysis of chance numbers, for I know of no other individual observation which would so readily demonstrate the existence of highly organized thinking processes of which consciousness has no knowledge. Moreover, there is no better example of analysis in which the suggestion of the position, a frequent accusation, is so distinctly out of consideration. I shall therefore report the analysis of a chance number of one of my[Pg 289] patients (with his consent), to which I will only add that he is the youngest of many children and that he lost his beloved father in his young years.

While in a particularly happy mood he let the number 426,718 come to his mind, and put to himself the question, “Well, what does it bring to your mind?” First came a joke he had heard: “If your catarrh of the nose is treated by a doctor it lasts 42 days, if it is not treated it lasts—6 weeks.” This corresponds to the first digit of the number (42 = 6 × 7). During the obstruction that followed this first solution I called his attention to the fact that the number of six digits selected by him contains all the first numbers except 3 and 5. He at once found the continuation of this solution:—

“We were altogether 7 children, I was the youngest. Number 3 in the order of the children corresponds to my sister A., and 5 to my brother L.; both of them were my enemies. As a child I used to pray to the Lord every night that He should take out of my life these two tormenting spirits. It seems to me that I have fulfilled for myself this wish: ‘3’ and ‘5,’ the evil brother and the hated sister, are omitted.”

“If the number stands for your sisters and brothers, what significance is there to 18 at the end? You were altogether only 7.”

“I often thought if my father had lived longer[Pg 290] I should not have been the youngest child. If one more would have come, we should have been 8, and there would have been a younger child, toward whom I could have played the rôle of the older one.”

With this the number was explained, but we still wished to find the connection between the first part of the interpretation and the part following it. This came very readily from the condition required for the last digits—if the father had lived longer. 42 = 6 × 7 signifies the ridicule directed against the doctors who could not help the father, and in this way expresses the wish for the continued existence of the father. The whole number really corresponds to the fulfilment of his two wishes in reference to his family circle—namely, that both the evil brother and sister should die and that another little child should follow him. Or, briefly expressed: If only these two had died in place of my father![71]

Another analysis of numbers I take from Jones.[72] A gentleman of his acquaintance let the number 986 come to his mind, and defied him to connect it to anything of special interest in his mind. “Six years ago, on the hottest day he could remember, he had seen a joke in an evening newspaper, which stated that the[Pg 291] thermometer had stood at 98·6° F., evidently an exaggeration of 98·6° F. We were at the time seated in front of a very hot fire, from which he had just drawn back, and he remarked, probably quite correctly, that the heat had aroused his dormant memory. However, I was curious to know why this memory had persisted with such vividness as to be so readily brought out, for with most people it surely would have been forgotten beyond recall, unless it had become associated with some other mental experience of more significance.

“He told me that on reading the joke he had laughed uproariously, and that on many subsequent occasions he had recalled it with great relish. As the joke was obviously of an exceedingly tenuous nature, this strengthened my expectation that more lay behind. His next thought was the general reflection that the conception of heat had always greatly impressed him, that heat was the most important thing in the universe, the source of all life, and so on. This remarkable attitude of a quite prosaic young man certainly needed some explanation, so I asked him to continue his free associations. The next thought was of a factory stack which he could see from his bedroom window. He often stood of an evening watching the flame and smoke issuing out of it, and reflecting on this deplorable waste of energy. Heat, flame, the source of[Pg 292] life, the waste of vital energy issuing from an upright, hollow tube—it was not hard to divine from such associations that the ideas of heat and fire were unconsciously linked in his mind with the idea of love, as is so frequent in symbolic thinking, and that there was a strong masturbation complex present, a conclusion that he presently confirmed.”

Those who wish to get a good impression of the way the material of numbers becomes elaborated in the unconscious thinking, I refer to two papers by Jung[73] and Jones.

In personal analysis of this kind two things were especially striking. First, the absolute somnambulistic certainty with which I attacked the unknown objective point, merging into a mathematical train of thought, which later suddenly extended to the looked-for number, and the rapidity with which the entire subsequent work was performed. Secondly, the fact that the numbers were always at the disposal of my unconscious mind, when as a matter of fact I am a poor mathematician and find it very difficult to consciously recall years, house numbers, and the like. Moreover, in these unconscious mental operations with figures I found a tendency to[Pg 293] superstition, the origin of which had long remained unknown to me.

It will not surprise us to find that not only numbers but also mental occurrences of different kinds of words regularly prove on analytic investigation to be well determined.

Brill relates: “While working on the English edition of this book I was obsessed one morning with the strange word ‘Cardillac.’ Busily intent on my work, I refused at first to pay attention to it, but, as is usually the case, I simply could not do anything else. ‘Cardillac’ was constantly in my mind. Realizing that my refusal to recognize it was only a resistance, I decided to analyse it. The following associations occurred to me: CardillaccardiaccarrefourCadillac.

Cardiac recalled cardalgia—heartache—a medical friend who had recently told me confidentially that he feared that he had some cardiac affection because he had suffered some attacks of pain in the region of his heart. Knowing him so well, I at once rejected his theory, and told him that his attacks were of a neurotic character, and that his other apparent physical ailments were also only the expression of his neurosis.

“I might add that just before telling me of his heart trouble he spoke of a business matter of vital interest to him which had suddenly come to naught. Being a man of unbounded ambitions,[Pg 294] he was very depressed because of late he had suffered many similar reverses. His neurotic conflicts, however, had become manifest a few months before this misfortune. Soon after his father’s death had left a big business on his hands. As the business could be continued only under my friend’s management, he was unable to decide whether to enter into commercial life or continue his chosen career. His great ambition was to become a successful medical practitioner, and although he had practised medicine successfully for many years, he was not altogether satisfied with the financial fluctuations of his professional income. On the other hand, his father’s business promised him an assured, though limited, return. In brief, he was ‘at a crossing and did not know which way to turn.’

“I then recalled the word carrefour, which is the French for ‘crossing,’ and it occurred to me that while working in a hospital in Paris I lived near the ‘Carrefour St. Lazarre.’ And now I could understand what relation all these associations had for me.

“When I resolved to leave the State Hospital I made the decision, first, because I desired to get married, and, secondly, because I wished to enter private practice. This brought up a new problem. Although my State hospital service was an absolute success, judging by promotions[Pg 295] and so on, I felt like a great many others in the same situation, namely, that my training was ill suited for private practice. To specialize in mental work was a daring undertaking for one without money and social connections. I also felt that the best I could do for patients should they ever come my way would be to commit them to one of the hospitals, as I had little confidence in the home treatment in vogue. In spite of the enormous advances made in recent years in mental work, the specialist is almost helpless when he is confronted with the average case of insanity. This may be partially attributed to the fact that such cases are brought to him after they have fully developed the psychosis when hospital treatment is imperative. Of the great army of milder mental disturbances, the so-called border-line cases, which make up the bulk of clinic and private work and which rightfully belong to the mental specialist, I knew very little, as those patients rarely, or never, came to the State hospital, and what I did know concerning the treatment of neurasthenia and psychasthenia was not conducive to make me more hopeful of success in private practice.

“It was in this state of mind that I came to Paris, where I hoped to learn enough about the psychoneuroses to enable me to continue my specialty in private practice, and yet feel that I could do something for my patients. What I[Pg 296] saw in Paris did not, however, help to change my state of mind. There, too, most of the work was directed to dead tissues. The mental aspects, as such, received but scant attention. I was, therefore, seriously thinking of giving up my mental work for some other specialty. As can be seen, I was confronted with a situation similar to the one of my medical friend. I, too, was at a crossing and did not know which way to turn. My suspense was soon ended. One day I received a letter from my friend Professor Peterson, who, by the way, was responsible for my entering the State hospital service. In this letter he advised me not to give up my work, and suggested the psychiatric clinic of Zurich, where he thought I could find what I desired.

“But what does Cadillac mean? Cadillac is the name of a hotel and of an automobile. A few days before in a country place my medical friend and I had been trying to hire an automobile, but there was none to be had. We both expressed the wish to own an automobile—again an unrealized ambition. I also recalled that the ‘Carrefour St. Lazarre’ always impressed me as being one of the busiest thoroughfares in Paris. It was always congested with automobiles. Cadillac also recalled that only a few days ago on the way to my clinic I noticed a large sign over a building which announced that on a certain day ‘this building was to be occupied[Pg 297] by the Cadillac,’ etc. This at first made me think of the Cadillac Hotel, but on second sight I noticed that it referred to the Cadillac motor-car. There was a sudden obstruction here for a few moments. The word Cadillac reappeared and by sound association the word catalogue occurred to me. This word brought back a very mortifying occurrence of recent origin, the motive of which is again blighted ambition.

“When one wishes to report any auto-analysis he must be prepared to lay bare many intimate affairs of his own life. Any one reading carefully Professor Freud’s works cannot fail to become intimately acquainted with him and his family. I have often been asked by persons who claim to have read and studied Freud’s works such questions as: ‘How old is Freud?’ ‘Is Freud married?’ ‘How many children has he?’ etc. Whenever I hear these or similar questions I know that the questioner has either lied when he made these assertions, or, to be more charitable, that he is a very careless and superficial reader. All these questions and many more are answered in Freud’s works. Auto-analyses are autobiographies par excellence; but whereas the autobiographer may for definite reasons consciously and unconsciously hide many facts of his life, the auto-analyst not only tells the truth consciously, but perforce brings to light his whole intimate personality. It is for these reasons that[Pg 298] one finds it very unpleasant to report his own auto-analyses. However, as we often report our patients’ unconscious productions, it is but fair that we should sacrifice ourselves on the altar of publicity when occasion demands. This is my apology for having thrust some of my personal affairs on the reader, and for being obliged to continue a little longer in the same strain.

“Before digressing with the last remarks I mentioned that the word Cadillac brought the sound association catalogue. This association brought back another important epoch in my life with which Professor Peterson is connected. Last May I was informed by the secretary of the faculty that I was appointed chief of clinic of the department of psychiatry. I need hardly say that I was exceedingly pleased to be so honoured—in the first place because it was the realization of an ambition which I dared entertain only under special euphoric states; and, secondly, it was a compensation for the many unmerited criticisms from those who are blindly and unreasonably opposing some of my work. Soon thereafter I called on the stenographer of the faculty and spoke to her about a correction to be made in my name as it was printed in the catalogue. For some unknown reason (perhaps racial prejudice) this stenographer, a maiden lady, must have taken a dislike to me. For[Pg 299] about three years I repeatedly requested her to have this correction made, but she had paid no attention to me. To be sure she always promised to attend to it, but the mistake remained uncorrected.

“When I saw her last May I again reminded her of this correction, and also called her attention to the fact that as I had been appointed chief of clinic I was especially anxious to have my name correctly printed in the catalogue. She apologized for her remissness and assured me that everything should be as I requested. Imagine my surprise and chagrin when on receiving the new catalogue I found that while the correction had been made in my name I was not listed as chief of clinic. When I asked her about this she was quite puzzled; she said she had no idea that I had been appointed chief of clinic. She had to consult the minutes of the faculty, written by herself, before she was convinced of it. It should be noted that as recorder to the faculty it was her duty to know all these things as soon as they transpired.[75] When she finally ascertained that I was right she was very apologetic and informed me that she would at once write to the superintendent of the clinic to inform him of my appointment,[Pg 300] something which she should have done months before. Of course I gained nothing by her regrets and apologies. The catalogue was published and those who read it did not find my name in the desired place. I am chief of clinic in fact but not in name. Moreover, as the appointments are made only for one year, it is quite likely that my great ambition will never be actually realized.

“Thus the obsessive neologism cardillac, which is a condensation of cardiacCadillac, and catalogue, contains some of the most important efforts of my medical experience. When I was almost at the end of this analysis I suddenly recalled a dream containing this neologism cardillac in which my wish was realized. My name appeared in its rightful place in the catalogue. The person who showed it to me in the dream was Professor Peterson. It was when I was at the first ‘crossing’ after I had graduated from the medical college that Professor Peterson urged me to enter the hospital service. About five years later while I was in the state of indecision which I have described, it was Professor Peterson who advised me to go to the clinic of psychiatry at Zurich where through Bleuler and Jung I first became acquainted with Professor Freud and his works, and it was also through the kind recommendation of Dr. Peterson that I was elevated to my present position.”

I am indebted to Dr. Hitschman for the solution of another case in which a line of poetry repeatedly obtruded itself on the mind in a certain place without showing any trace of its origin and relation.

Related by Dr. E.: “Six years ago I travelled from Biarritz to San Sebastian. The railroad crosses over the Bidassao—a river which here forms the boundary between France and Spain. On the bridge one has a splendid view, on the one side of the broad valley and the Pyrenees and on the other of the sea. It was a beautiful, bright summer day; everything was filled with sun and light. I was on a vacation and pleased with my trip to Spain. Suddenly the following words came to me: ‘But the soul is already free, floating on a sea of light.

“At that time I was trying to remember where these lines came from, but I could not remember; judging by the rhythm, the words must be a part of some poem, which, however, entirely escaped my memory. Later when the verse repeatedly came to my mind, I asked many people about it without receiving any information.

“Last year I crossed the same bridge on my return journey from Spain. It was a very dark night and it rained. I looked through the window to ascertain whether we had already reached the frontier station and noticed that we were on the Bidassao bridge. Immediately the above-cited[Pg 302] verse returned to my memory and again I could not recall its origin.

“At home many months later I found Uhland’s poems. I opened the volume and my glance fell upon the verse: ‘But the soul is already free, floating on a sea of light,’ which were the concluding lines of the poem entitled ‘The Pilgrim.’ I read the poem and dimly recalled that I had known it many years ago. The scene of action is in Spain, and this seemed to me to be the only relation between the quoted verse and the place on the railroad journey described by me. I was only half satisfied with my discovery and mechanically continued to turn the pages of the book. On turning the next page I found a poem the title of which was ‘Bidassao Bridge.’

“I may add that the contents of this poem seemed even stranger to me than that of the first, and that its first verse read:

“‘On the Bidassao bridge stands a saint grey with age, he blesses to the right the Spanish mountain, to the left he blesses the French land.’”

II. This understanding of the determination of apparently arbitrarily selected names, numbers, and words may perhaps contribute to the solution of another problem. As is known, many persons argue against the assumption of an absolute psychic determinism by referring to an intense[Pg 303] feeling of conviction that there is a free will. This feeling of conviction exists, but is not incompatible with the belief in determinism. Like all normal feelings, it must be justified by something. But, so far as I can observe, it does not manifest itself in weighty and important decisions; on these occasions one has much more the feeling of a psychic compulsion and gladly falls back upon it. (Compare Luther’s “Here I stand, I cannot do anything else.”)

On the other hand, it is in trivial and indifferent decisions that one feels sure that he could just as easily have acted differently, that he acted of his own free will, and without any motives. From our analyses we therefore need not contest the right of the feeling of conviction that there is a free will. If we distinguish conscious from unconscious motivation, we are then informed by the feeling of conviction that the conscious motivation does not extend over all our motor resolutions. Minima non curat prætor. What is thus left free from the one side receives its motive from the other side, from the unconscious, and the determinism in the psychic realm is thus carried out uninterruptedly.[76]

[Pg 304]

III. Although conscious thought must be altogether ignorant of the motivation of the faulty actions described above, yet it would be desirable to discover a psychologic proof of its existence; indeed, reasons obtained through a deeper knowledge of the unconscious make it probable that such proofs are to be discovered somewhere. As a matter of fact phenomena can be demonstrated in two spheres which seem to correspond to an unconscious and hence to a displaced knowledge of these motives.

(a)It is a striking and generally to be recognized feature in the behaviour of paranoiacs, that they attach the greatest significance to the trivial details in the behaviour of others. Details which are usually overlooked by others they interpret and utilize as the basis of far-reaching conclusions. For example, the last paranoiac seen by me concluded that there was a general understanding among people of his environment, because at his departure from the railway-station[Pg 305] they made a certain motion with one hand. Another noticed how people walked on the street, how they brandished their walking-sticks, and the like.[77]

The category of the accidental, requiring no motivation, which the normal person lets pass as a part of his own psychic activities and faulty actions, is thus rejected by the paranoiac in the application to the psychic manifestations to others. All that he observes in others is full of meaning, all is explainable. But how does he come to look at it in this manner? Probably here as in so many other cases, he projects into the mental life of others what exists in his own unconscious activity. Many things obtrude themselves on consciousness in paranoia which in normal and neurotic persons can only be demonstrated through psychoanalysis as existing in their unconscious.[78] In a certain sense the paranoiac is here justified, he perceives something that escapes the normal person, he sees clearer than one of normal intellectual capacity,[Pg 306] but his knowledge becomes worthless when he imputes to others the state of affairs he thus recognizes. I hope that I shall not be expected to justify every paranoic interpretation. But the point which we grant to paranoia in this conception of chance actions will facilitate for us the psychologic understanding of the conviction which the paranoiac attaches to all these interpretations. There is certainly some truth to it; even our errors of judgment, which are not designated as morbid, acquire their feeling of conviction in the same way. This feeling is justified for a certain part of the erroneous train of thought or for the source of its origin, and we shall later extend to it the remaining relationships.

(b) The phenomena of superstition furnish another indication of the unconscious motivation in chance and faulty actions. I will make myself clear through the discussion of a simple experience which gave me the starting-point to these reflections.

Having returned from vacation, my thoughts immediately turned to the patients with whom I was to occupy myself in the beginning of my year’s work. My first visit was to a very old woman (see above) for whom I had twice daily performed the same professional services for many years. Owing to this monotony unconscious thoughts have often found expression on[Pg 307] the way to the patient and during my occupation with her. She was over ninety years old; it was therefore pertinent to ask oneself at the beginning of each year how much longer she was likely to live.

On the day of which I speak I was in a hurry and took a carriage to her house. Every coachman at the cabstand near my house knew the old woman’s address, as each of them had often driven me there. This day it happened that the driver did not stop in front of her house, but before one of the same number in a near-by and really similar-looking parallel street. I noticed the mistake and reproached the coachman, who apologized for it.

Is it of any significance when I am taken to a house where the old woman is not to be found? Certainly not to me; but were I superstitious, I should see an omen in this incident, a hint of fate that this would be the last year for the old woman. A great many omens which have been preserved by history have been founded on no better symbolism. Of course, I explain the incident as an accident without further meaning.

The case would have been entirely different had I come on foot and, “absorbed in thought” or “through distraction,” I had gone to the house in the parallel street instead of the correct one. I would not explain that as an accident, but as an action with unconscious intent requiring interpretation.[Pg 308] My explanation of this “lapse in walking” would probably be that I expected that the time would soon come when I should not meet the old woman any longer.

I therefore differ from a superstitious person in the following manner:—

I do not believe that an occurrence in which my mental life takes no part can teach me anything hidden concerning the future shaping of reality; but I do believe that an unintentional manifestation of my own mental activity surely contains something concealed which belongs only to my mental life—that is, I believe in outer (real) chance, but not in inner (psychic) accidents. With the superstitious person the case is reversed: he knows nothing of the motive of his chance and faulty actions, he believes in the existence of psychic contingencies; he is therefore inclined to attribute meaning to external chance, which manifests itself in actual occurrence, and to see in the accident a means of expression for something hidden outside of him. There are two differences between me and the superstitious person: first, he projects the motive to the outside, while I look for it in myself; second, he explains the accident by an event which I trace to a thought. What he considers hidden corresponds to the unconscious with me, and the compulsion not to let chance pass as chance, but to explain it as common to both of us.

[Pg 309]

Thus I admit that this conscious ignorance and unconscious knowledge of the motivation of psychic accidentalness is one of the psychic roots of superstition. Because the superstitious person knows nothing of the motivation of his own accidental actions, and because the fact of this motivation strives for a place in his recognition, he is compelled to dispose of them by displacing them into the outer world. If such a connection exists it can hardly be limited to this single case. As a matter of fact, I believe that a large portion of the mythological conception of the world which reaches far into the most modern religions is nothing but psychology projected into the outer world. The dim perception (the endo-psychic perception, as it were) of psychic factors and relations[79] of the unconscious was taken as a model in the construction of a transcendental reality, which is destined to be changed again by science into psychology of the unconscious.

It is difficult to express it in other terms; the analogy to paranoia must here come to our aid. We venture to explain in this way the myths of paradise and the fall of man, of God, of good and evil, of immortality, and the like—that is, to transform metaphysics into meta-psychology. The gap between the paranoiac’s displacement[Pg 310] and that of superstition is narrower than appears at first sight. When human beings began to think, they were obviously compelled to explain the outer world in an anthropomorphic sense by a multitude of personalities in their own image; the accidents which they explained superstitiously were thus actions and expressions of persons. In that regard they behaved just like paranoiacs, who draw conclusions from insignificant signs which others give them, and like all normal persons who justly take the unintentional actions of their fellow-beings as a basis for the estimation of their characters. Only in our modern philosophical, but by no means finished, views of life does superstition seem so much out of place: in the view of life of pre-scientific times and nations it was justified and consistent.

The Roman who gave up an important undertaking because he sighted an ill-omened flock of birds was relatively right; his action was consistent with his principles. But if he withdrew from an undertaking because he had stumbled on his threshold (un Romain retournerait), he was absolutely superior even to us unbelievers. He was a better psychologist than we are striving to become. For his stumbling could demonstrate to him the existence of a doubt, an internal counter-current the force of which could weaken the power of his[Pg 311] intention at the moment of its execution. For only by concentrating all psychic forces on the desired aim can one be assured of perfect success. How does Schiller’s Tell, who hesitated so long to shoot the apple from his son’s head, answer the bailiff’s question why he had provided himself with a second arrow?

With the second arrow I would have pierced you had I struck my dear child—and truly, I should not have failed to reach you.

IV. Whoever has had the opportunity of studying the concealed psychic feelings of persons by means of psychoanalysis can also tell something new concerning the quality of unconscious motives, which express themselves in superstition. Nervous persons afflicted with compulsive thinking and compulsive states, who are often very intelligent, show very plainly that superstition originates from repressed hostile and cruel impulses. The greater part of superstition signifies fear of impending evil, and he who has frequently wished evil to others, but because of a good bringing-up has repressed the same into the unconscious, will be particularly apt to expect punishment for such unconscious evil in the form of a misfortune threatening him from without.

If we concede that we have by no means exhausted the psychology of superstition in these remarks, we must, on the other hand, at least[Pg 312] touch upon the question whether real roots of superstition should be altogether denied, whether there are really no omens, prophetic dreams, telepathic experiences, manifestations of supernatural forces, and the like. I am now far from willing to repudiate without anything further all these phenomena, concerning which we possess so many minute observations even from men of intellectual prominence, and which should certainly form a basis for further investigation. We may even hope that some of these observations will be explained by our present knowledge of the unconscious psychic processes without necessitating radical changes in our present aspect. If still other phenomena, as, for example, those maintained by the spiritualists, should be proven, we should then consider the modification of our “laws” as demanded by the new experience, without becoming confused in regard to the relation of things of this world.

In the sphere of these analyses I can only answer the questions here proposed subjectively—that is, in accordance with my personal experience. I am sorry to confess that I belong to that class of unworthy individuals before whom the spirits cease their activities and the supernatural disappears, so that I have never been in position to experience anything personally that would stimulate belief in the miraculous. Like everybody else, I have had forebodings and experienced[Pg 313] misfortunes; but the two evaded each other, so that nothing followed the foreboding, and the misfortune struck me unannounced. When as a young man I lived alone in a strange city I frequently heard my name suddenly pronounced by an unmistakable, dear voice, and I then made a note of the exact moment of the hallucination in order to inquire carefully of those at home what had occurred at that time. There was nothing to it. On the other hand, I later worked among my patients calmly and without foreboding while my child almost bled to death. Nor have I ever been able to recognize as unreal phenomena any of the forebodings reported to me by my patients.

The belief in prophetic dreams numbers many adherents, because it can be supported by the fact that some things really so happen in the future as they were previously foretold by the wish of the dream. But in this there is little to be wondered at, as many far-reaching deviations may be regularly demonstrated between a dream and the fulfilment which the credulity of the dreamer prefers to neglect.

A nice example, one which may be justly called prophetic, was once brought to me for exhaustive analysis by an intelligent and truth-loving patient. She related that she once dreamed that she had met a former friend and family physician in front of a certain store in[Pg 314] a certain street, and next morning when she went down town she actually met him at the place named in the dream. I may observe that the significance of this wonderful coincidence was not proven to be due to any subsequent event—that is, it could not be justified through future occurrences.

Careful examination definitely established the fact that there was no proof that the woman recalled the dream in the morning following the night of the dream—that is, before the walk and before the meeting. She could offer no objection when this state of affairs was presented in a manner that robbed this episode of everything miraculous, leaving only an interesting psychologic problem. One morning she had walked through this very street, had met her old family physician before that certain store, and on seeing him received the conviction that during the preceding night she had dreamed of this meeting at this place.

The analysis then showed with great probability how she came to this conviction, to which, in accordance with the general rule, we cannot deny a certain right to credence. A meeting at a definite place following a previous expectation really describes the fact of a rendezvous. The old family physician awakened her memory of old times, when meetings with a third person, also a friend of the physician, were of marked[Pg 315] significance to her. Since that time she had continued her relations with this gentleman, and the day before the mentioned dream she had waited for him in vain. If I could report in greater detail the circumstances here before us, I could easily show that the illusion of the prophetic dream at the sight of the friend of former times is perchance equivalent to the following speech: “Ah, doctor, you now remind me of bygone times, when I never had to wait in vain for N. when we had arranged a meeting.”

I have observed in myself a simple and easily explained example, which is probably a good model for similar occurrences of those familiar “remarkable coincidences” wherein we meet a person of whom we were just thinking. During a walk through the inner city a few days after the title of “Professor” was bestowed on me, which carries with it a great deal of prestige even in monarchical cities, my thoughts suddenly merged into a childish revenge-fantasy against a certain married couple. Some months previous they had called me to see their little daughter who suffered from an interesting compulsive manifestation following the appearance of a dream. I took a great interest in the case, the genesis of which I believed I could surmise, but the parents were unfavourable to my treatment, and gave me to understand that they thought of applying to a foreign authority who cured by[Pg 316] means of hypnotism. I now fancied that after the failure of this attempt, the parents begged me to resume my treatment, that they now had full confidence in me, etc. But I answered: “Now that I have become a professor, you have confidence in me. The title has made no change in my ability; if you could not use me when I was instructor you can get along without me now that I am a professor.” At this point my fantasy was interrupted by a loud “Good evening, Professor!” and as I looked up there passed me the same couple on whom I had just taken this imaginary vengeance.

The next reflection destroyed the semblance of the miraculous. I was walking towards this couple on a straight, almost deserted street; glancing up hastily at a distance of perhaps twenty steps from me, I had spied and realized their stately personalities; but this perception, following the model of a negative hallucination, was set aside by certain emotionally accentuated motives and then asserted itself in the apparently spontaneous emerging fantasy.

A similar experience is related by Brill, which also throws some light on the nature of telepathy.

“While engrossed in conversation during our customary Sunday evening dinner at one of the large New York restaurants, I suddenly stopped and irrelevantly remarked to my wife, ‘I wonder[Pg 317] how Dr. R. is doing in Pittsburg.’ She looked at me much astonished and said: ‘Why, that is exactly what I have been thinking for the last few seconds! Either you have transferred this thought to me or I have transferred it to you. How can you otherwise explain this strange phenomenon?’ I had to admit that I could offer no solution. Our conversation throughout the dinner showed not the remotest association to Dr. R., nor, so far as our memories went, had we heard or spoken of him for some time. Being a sceptic, I refused to admit that there was anything mysterious about it, although inwardly I felt quite uncertain. To be frank, I was somewhat mystified.

“But we did not remain very long in this state of mind, for on looking toward the cloak-room we were surprised to see Dr. R. Though closer inspection showed our mistake, we were both struck by the remarkable resemblance of this stranger to Dr. R. From the position of the cloak-room we were forced to conclude that this stranger had passed our table. Absorbed in our conversation, we had not noticed him consciously, but the visual image had stirred up the association of his double, Dr. R. That we should both have experienced the same thought is also quite natural. The last word from our friend was to the effect that he had taken up private practice in Pittsburg, and, being aware of the vicissitudes[Pg 318] that beset the beginner, it was quite natural to wonder how fortune smiled upon him.

“What promised to be a supernatural manifestation was thus easily explained on a normal basis; but had we not noticed the stranger before he left the restaurant, it would have been impossible to exclude the mysterious. I venture to say that such simple mechanisms are at the bottom of the most complicated telepathic manifestations; at least, such has been my experience in all cases accessible to investigation.”

Another “solution of an apparent foreboding” was reported by Otto Rank[80]:—

“Some time ago I had experienced a remarkable variation of that ‘peculiar coincidence’ wherein one meets a person who has just been occupying one’s thoughts. Shortly before Christmas I went to the Austro-Hungarian Bank in order to obtain ten new silver crown-pieces destined for Christmas gifts. Absorbed in ambitious fantasies which dealt with the contrast of my meagre means to the enormous sums in the banking-house, I turned into the narrow street to the bank. In front of the door I saw an automobile and many people going in and out. I thought to myself: ‘The officials will have plenty of time for my new crowns; naturally I shall be quick about it; I shall put down the paper notes to be exchanged, and say, “Please[Pg 319] give me gold.”’ I realized my mistake at once—I was to have asked for silver—and awoke from my fantasies.

“I was now only a few steps from the entrance, and noticed a young man coming toward me who looked familiar, but whom I could not definitely identify on account of my short-sightedness. As he came nearer I recognized him as a classmate of my brother whose name was Gold and from whose brother, a well-known journalist, I had great expectations in the beginning of my literary career. But these expectations had not materialized, and with them had vanished the hoped-for material success with which my fantasies were occupying themselves on my way to the bank. Thus engrossed I must have unconsciously perceived the approach of Mr. Gold, who impressed himself on my conscience while I was dreaming of material success, and thereby caused me to ask the cashier for gold instead of the inferior silver. But, on the other hand, the paradoxical fact that my unconscious was able to perceive an object long before it was recognized by the eye might in part be explained by the complex readiness (Komplexbereitschaft) of Bleuler. For my mind was attuned to the material, and, contrary to my better knowledge, it guided my steps from the very beginning to buildings where gold and paper money were exchanged.”

[Pg 320]

To the category of the wonderful and uncanny we may also add that strange feeling we perceive in certain moments and situations when it seems as if we had already had exactly the same experience, or had previously found ourselves in the same situation. Yet we are never successful in our efforts to recall clearly those former experiences and situations. I know that I follow only the loose colloquial expression when I designate that which stimulates us in such moments as a “feeling.” We undoubtedly deal with a judgment, and, indeed, with a judgment of cognition; but these cases, nevertheless, have a character peculiar to themselves, and besides, we must not ignore the fact that we never recall what we are seeking.

I do not know whether this phenomenon of Déjà vu was ever seriously offered as a proof of a former psychic existence of the individual; but it is certain that psychologists have taken an interest in it, and have attempted to solve the riddle in a multitude of speculative ways. None of the proposed tentative explanations seems right to me, because none takes account of anything but the accompanying manifestations and the favouring conditions of the phenomenon. Those psychic processes which, according to my observation, are alone responsible for the explanation of the Déjà vu—namely, the unconscious fantasies—are generally neglected by the psychologists even to-day.

[Pg 321]

I believe that it is wrong to designate the feeling of having experienced something before as an illusion. On the contrary, in such moments something is really touched that we have already experienced, only we cannot consciously recall the latter because it never was conscious. In short, the feeling of Déjà vu corresponds to the memory of an unconscious fantasy. There are unconscious fantasies (or day dreams) just as there are similar conscious creations, which every one knows from personal experience.

I realize that the object is worthy of most minute study, but I will here give the analysis of only one case of Déjà vu in which the feeling was characterized by particular intensity and persistence. A woman of thirty-seven years asserted that she most distinctly remembered that at the age of twelve and a half she paid her first visit to some school friends in the country, and as she entered the garden she immediately had the feeling of having been there before. This feeling was repeated as she went through the living-rooms, so that she believed she knew beforehand how big the next room was, what views one could have on looking out of it, etc. But the belief that this feeling of recognition might have its source in a previous visit to the house and garden, perhaps a visit paid in earliest childhood, was absolutely excluded and disproved[Pg 322] by statements from her parents. The woman who related this sought no psychologic explanation, but saw in the appearance of this feeling a prophetic reference to the importance which these friends later assumed in her emotional life. On taking into consideration, however, the circumstance under which this phenomenon presented itself to her, we found the way to another conception.

When she decided upon this visit she knew that these girls had an only brother, who was seriously ill. In the course of the visit she actually saw him. She found him looking very badly, and thought to herself that he would soon die. But it happened that her own only brother had had a serious attack of diphtheria some months before, and during his illness she had lived for weeks with relatives far from her parental home. She believed that her brother was taking part in this visit to the country, imagined even that this was his first long journey since his illness; still, her memory was remarkably indistinct in regard to these points, whereas all other details, and particularly the dress which she wore that day, remained most clearly before her eyes.

To the initiated it will not be difficult to conclude from these suggestions that the expectation of her brother’s death had played a great part in the girl’s mind at that time, and that either it never[Pg 323] became conscious or it was more energetically repressed after the favourable issue of the illness. Under other circumstances she would have been compelled to wear another dress—namely, mourning clothes. She found the analogous situation in her friends’ home; their only brother was in danger of an early death, an event that really came to pass a short time after. She might have consciously remembered that she had lived through a similar situation a few months previous, but instead of recalling what was inhibited through repression she transferred the memory feeling to the locality, to the garden, and the house, and merged it into the fausse reconnaissance that she had already seen everything exactly as it was.

From the fact of the repression we may conclude that the former expectation of the death of her brother was not far from evincing the character of a wish-fantasy. She would then have become the only child. In her later neurosis she suffered in the most intense manner from the fear of losing her parents, behind which the analysis disclosed, as usual, the unconscious wish of the same content.

My own experience of Déjà vu I can trace in a similar manner to the emotional constellation of the moment. It may be expressed as follows: “That would be another occasion for awakening certain fantasies (unconscious and unknown)[Pg 324] which were formed in me at one time or another as a wish to improve my situation.”[81]

V. Recently when I had occasion to recite to a colleague of a philosophical turn of mind some examples of name-forgetting, with their analyses, he hastened to reply: “That is all very well, but with me the forgetting of a name proceeds in a different manner.” Evidently one cannot dismiss this question as simply as that; I do not believe that my colleague had ever thought of an analysis for the forgetting of a name, nor could he say how the process differed in him. But his remark, nevertheless, touches upon a problem which many would be inclined to place in the foreground. Does the solution given for faulty and chance actions apply in general or only in particular cases, and if only in the latter, what are the conditions under which it may also be employed in the explanation of the other phenomena?

[Pg 325]

In answer to this question my experiences leave me in the lurch. I can only urge against considering the demonstrated connections as rare, for as often as I have made the test in myself and with my patients it was always definitely demonstrated exactly as in the examples reported, or there were at least good reasons to assume this. One should not be surprised, however, when one does not succeed every time in finding the concealed meaning of the symptomatic action, as the amount of inner resistances ranging themselves against the solution must be considered a deciding factor. Also it is not always possible to explain every individual dream of one’s self or of patients. To substantiate the general validity of the theory, it is enough if one can penetrate only a certain distance into the hidden associations. The dream which proves refractory when the solution is attempted on the following day can often be robbed of its secret a week or a month later, when the psychic factors combating one another have been reduced as a consequence of a real change that has meanwhile taken place. The same applies to the solution of faulty and symptomatic actions. It would therefore be wrong to affirm of all cases which resist analysis that they are caused by another psychic mechanism than that here revealed; such assumption requires more than negative proofs; moreover, the readiness to[Pg 326] believe in a different explanation of faulty and symptomatic actions, which probably exists universally in all normal persons, does not prove anything; it is obviously an expression of the same psychic forces which produced the secret, which therefore strives to protect and struggle against its elucidation.

On the other hand, we must not overlook the fact that the repressed thoughts and feelings are not independent in attaining expression in symptomatic and faulty actions. The technical possibility for such an adjustment of the innervations must be furnished independently of them, and this is then gladly utilized by the intention of the repressed material to come to conscious expression. In the case of linguistic faulty actions an attempt has been made by philosophers and philologists to verify through minute observations what structural and functional relations enter into the service of such intention. If in the determinations of faulty and symptomatic actions we separate the unconscious motive from its co-active physiological and psychophysical relations, the question remains open whether there are still other factors within normal limits which, like the unconscious motive, and in its place can produce faulty and symptomatic actions on the road of the relations. It is not my task to answer this question.

VI. Since the discussion of speech blunders[Pg 327] we have been content to demonstrate that faulty actions have a concealed motive, and through the aid of psychoanalysis we have traced our way to the knowledge of their motivation. The general nature and the peculiarities of the psychic factors brought to expression in these faulty actions we have hitherto left almost without consideration; at any rate, we have not attempted to define them more accurately or to examine into their lawfulness. Nor will we now attempt a thorough elucidation of the subject, as the first steps have already taught us that it is more feasible to enter this structure from another side. Here we can put before ourselves certain questions which I will cite in their order. (1) What is the content and the origin of the thoughts and feelings which show themselves through faulty and chance actions? (2) What are the conditions which force a thought or a feeling to make use of these occurrences as a means of expression and place it in a position to do so? (3) Can constant and definite associations be demonstrated between the manner of the faulty action and the qualities brought to expression through it?

I shall begin by bringing together some material for answering the last question. In the discussion of the examples of speech blunders we found it necessary to go beyond the contents of the intended speech, and we had to seek the[Pg 328] cause of the speech disturbance outside the intention. The latter was quite clear in a series of cases, and was known to the consciousness of the speaker. In the example that seemed most simple and transparent it was a similar sounding but different conception of the same thought, which disturbed its expression without any one being able to say why the one succumbed and the other came to the surface (Meringer and Mayers’ Contaminations).

In a second group of cases one conception succumbed to a motive which did not, however, prove strong enough to cause complete submersion. The conception which was withheld was clearly presented to consciousness.

Only of the third group can we affirm unreservedly that the disturbing thought differed from the one intended, and it is obvious that it may establish an essential distinction. The disturbing thought is either connected with the disturbed one through a thought association (disturbance through inner contradiction), or it is substantially strange to it, and just the disturbed word is connected with the disturbing thought through a surprising outer association, which is frequently unconscious.

In the examples which I have given from my psychoanalyses it is found that the entire speech is either under the influence of thoughts which have become active simultaneously, or under[Pg 329] absolutely unconscious thoughts which betray themselves either through the disturbance itself, or which evince an indirect influence by making it possible for the individual parts of the unconsciously intended speech to disturb one another. The retained or unconscious thoughts from which the disturbances in speech emanate are of most varied origin. A general survey does not reveal any definite direction.

Comparative examinations of examples of mistakes in reading and writing lead to the same conclusions. Isolated cases, as in speech blunders, seem to owe their origin to an unmotivated work of condensation (e.g., the Apel). But we should be pleased to know whether special conditions must not be fulfilled in order that such condensation, which is considered regular in the dream-work and faulty in our waking thoughts, should take place. No information concerning this can be obtained from the examples themselves. But I merely refuse from this to draw the conclusion that there are no such conditions, as, for instance, the relaxation of conscious attention; for I have learned elsewhere that automatic actions are especially characterized by correctness and reliability. I would rather emphasize the fact that here, as so frequently in biology, it is the normal relations, or those approaching the normal, that are less favourable objects for investigation than the[Pg 330] pathological. What remains obscure in the explanation of these most simple disturbances will, according to my expectation, be made clear through the explanation of more serious disturbances.

Also mistakes in reading and writing do not lack examples in which more remote and more complicated motivation can be recognized.

There is no doubt that the disturbances of the speech functions occur more easily and make less demand on the disturbing forces than other psychic acts.

But one is on different ground when it comes to the examination of forgetting in the literal sense—i.e., the forgetting of past experiences. (To distinguish this forgetting from the others we designate sensu strictiori the forgetting of proper names and foreign words, as in Chapters I and II, as “slips”; and the forgetting of resolutions as “omissions.”) The principal conditions of the normal process in forgetting are unknown.[82] We are also reminded of the fact[Pg 331] that not all is forgotten which we believe to be. Our explanation here deals only with those cases in which the forgetting arouses our astonishment, in so far as it infringes the rule that the unimportant is forgotten, while the important matter is guarded by memory. Analysis of these examples of forgetting which seem to demand a special explanation shows that the motive of forgetting is always an unwillingness to recall something which may evoke painful feelings. We come to the conjecture that this motive universally strives for expression in psychic life, but is inhibited through other[Pg 332] and contrary forces from regularly manifesting itself. The extent and significance of this dislike to recall painful impressions seems worthy of the most painstaking psychologic investigation. The question as to what special conditions render possible the universally resistant forgetting in individual cases cannot be solved through this added association.

A different factor steps into the foreground in the forgetting of resolutions; the supposed conflict resulting in the repression of the painful memory becomes tangible, and in the analysis of the examples one regularly recognizes a counter-will which opposes but does not put an end to the resolution. As in previously discussed faulty acts, we here also recognize two types of the psychic process: the counter-will either turns directly against the resolution (in intentions of some consequence) or it is substantially foreign to the resolution itself and establishes its connection with it through an outer association (in almost indifferent resolutions).

The same conflict governs the phenomena of erroneously carried-out actions. The impulse which manifests itself in the disturbances of the action is frequently a counter-impulse. Still oftener it is altogether a strange impulse which only utilizes the opportunity to express itself through a disturbance in the execution of the action. The cases in which the disturbance is[Pg 333] the result of an inner contradiction are the most significant ones, and also deal with the more important activities.

The inner conflict in the chance or symptomatic actions then merges into the background. Those motor expressions which are least thought of, or are entirely overlooked by consciousness, serve as the expression of numerous unconscious or restrained feelings. For the most part they represent symbolically wishes and phantoms.

The first question (as to the origin of the thoughts and emotions which find expression in faulty actions) we can answer by saying that in a series of cases the origin of the disturbing thoughts can be readily traced to repressed emotions of the psychic life. Even in healthy persons egotistic, jealous and hostile feelings and impulses, burdened by the pressure of moral education, often utilize the path of faulty actions to express in some way their undeniably existing force which is not recognized by the higher psychic instances. Allowing these faulty and chance actions to continue corresponds in great part to a comfortable toleration of the unmoral. The manifold sexual currents play no insignificant part in these repressed feelings. That they appear so seldom in the thoughts revealed by the analyses of my examples is simply a matter of coincidence. As I have undertaken the analyses of numerous examples from my own[Pg 334] psychic life, the selection was partial from the first, and aimed at the exclusion of sexual matters. At other times it seemed that the disturbing thoughts originated from the most harmless objection and consideration.

We have now reached the answer to the second question—that is, what psychologic conditions are responsible for the fact that a thought must seek expression, not in its complete form but, as it were, in parasitic form, as a modification and disturbance of another. From the most striking examples of faulty actions it is quite obvious that this determinant should be sought in a relation to conscious capacity, or in the more or less firmly pronounced character of the “repressed” material. But an examination of this series of examples shows that this character consists of many indistinct elements. The tendency to overlook something because it is wearisome, or because the concerned thought does not really belong to the intended matter—these feelings seem to play the same rôle as motives for the suppression of a thought (which later depends for expression on the disturbance of another), as the moral condemnation of a rebellious emotional feeling, or as the origin of absolutely unconscious trains of thought. An insight into the general nature of the condition of faulty and chance actions cannot be gained in this way.

[Pg 335]

However, this investigation gives us one single significant fact; the more harmless the motivation of the faulty act the less obnoxious, and hence the less incapable of consciousness, the thought to which it gives expression is; the easier also becomes the solution of the phenomenon after we have turned our attention toward it. The simplest cases of speech blunders are immediately noticed and spontaneously corrected. Where one deals with motivation through actually repressed feelings the solution requires a painstaking analysis, which may sometimes strike against difficulties or turn out unsuccessful.

One is therefore justified in taking the result of this last investigation as an indication of the fact that the satisfactory explanation of the psychologic determinations of faulty and chance actions is to be acquired in another way and from another source. The indulgent reader can therefore see in these discussions the demonstration of the surfaces of fracture in which this theme was quite artificially evolved from a broader connection.

VII. Just a few words to indicate the direction of this broader connection. The mechanism of the faulty and chance actions, as we have learned to know it through the application of analysis, shows in the most essential points an agreement with the mechanism of dream formation, which I have discussed in the chapter “The Dream[Pg 336] Work” of my book on the interpretation of dreams. Here, as there, one finds the condensation and compromise formation (“contaminations”); in addition the situation is much the same, since unconscious thoughts find expression as modifications of other thoughts in unusual ways and through outer associations. The incongruities, absurdities, and errors in the dream content by virtue of which the dream is scarcely recognized as a psychic achievement originate in the same way—to be sure, through freer usage of the existing material—as the common error of our everyday life; here, as there, the appearance of the incorrect function is explained through the peculiar interference of two or more correct actions.

An important conclusion can be drawn from, this combination: the peculiar mode of operation, whose most striking function we recognize in the dream content, should not be adjudged only to the sleeping state of the psychic life when we possess abundant proof of its activity during the waking state in the form of faulty actions. The same connection also forbids us assuming that these psychic processes which impress us as abnormal and strange are determined by deep-seated decay of psychic activity or by morbid state of function.[83]

[Pg 337]

The correct understanding of this strange psychic work which allows the faulty actions to originate like the dream pictures will only be possible after we have discovered that the psychoneurotic symptoms, particularly the psychic formations of hysteria and compulsion neurosis, repeat in their mechanisms all the essential features of this mode of operation. The continuation of our investigation would therefore have to begin at this point.

There is still another special interest for us in considering the faulty, chance, and symptomatic actions in the light of this last analogy. If we compare them to the function of the psychoneuroses and the neurotic symptoms, two frequently recurring statements gain in sense and support—namely, that the border-line between the nervous, normal, and abnormal states is indistinct, and that we are all slightly nervous. Regardless of all medical experience, one may construe various types of such barely suggested nervousness, the formes frustes of the neuroses. There may be cases in which only a few symptoms appear, or they may manifest themselves rarely or in mild forms; the extenuation may be transferred to the number, intensity, or to the temporal outbreak of the morbid manifestation. It may also happen that just this type, which forms the most frequent transition between health and disease, may never be discovered.[Pg 338] The transition type, whose morbid manifestations come in the form of faulty and symptomatic actions, is characterized by the fact that the symptoms are transformed to the least important psychic activities, while everything that can lay claim to a higher psychic value remains free from disturbance. When the symptoms are disposed of in a reverse manner—that is, when they appear in the most important individual and social activities in a manner to disturb the functions of nourishment and sexual relations, professional and social life—such disposition is found in the severe cases of neuroses, and is perhaps more characteristic of the latter than the multiformity or vividness of the morbid manifestations.

But the common character of the mildest as well as the severest cases, to which the faulty and chance actions contribute, lies in the ability to refer the phenomena to unwelcome, repressed, psychic material, which, though pushed away from consciousness, is nevertheless not robbed of all capacity to express itself.

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This book is part of the public domain. Sigmund Freud (2022). Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022

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